Holy trinity

HAMLET, Holy Trinity Church, Guildford

BWW Review: HAMLET, Holy Trinity Church, GuildfordThere’s a certain gravity that follows Hamlet, a bow that seems to accompany the Great Dane alone. When you have a centuries-old church on hand for Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, that chance only grows. Freddy Fox stars at Prince and Holy Trinity Church in Guildford acts as “the most excellent canopy” for Tom Littleris the first look at the most dysfunctional of Danish families.

The unmistakably brilliant backdrop and England’s acting royalty – Freddie isn’t the only Fox, his father Edward appears as the demonic ghost of King Hamlet heard in thunderous voiceover – carry the performance. Seeing a glorious titular character refrain from murdering his former uncle-turned-stepfather as he prays in a real house of worship certainly has its impact, but when the surrounding performances seem to inhabit a stylistically different room, the prowess of the one means relatively little. It’s a slightly hazy production that comes across as tentative rather than assured, never fully realizing.

Fox is spellbinding – especially when he’s alone. He is tormented in his soliloquies. Torn between pretense and truth, revenge and grief, he is confronted with a family deaf to his pain. He’s a Hamlet who never really knew pain until the loss of his father, so he has no coping mechanisms or support systems to engage. An emotional breakdown slowly gives way to the cold brutality that ends his life – and the lives of many others.

As we last saw Fox on stage in the Hilarious Edmond de Bergerac, he is no stranger to drama and is shown to be able to switch deftly between sheer distress and flamboyant, devious sarcasm. Once the dam opens and his character confronts his feelings, he is the cornerstone of the project. It only falters during the absurdly long and messy death scene. “I am dead!” he repeats. Except it isn’t and won’t be for a while.

HamletThe women of tragically become an oblivion. Karen AscoeGertrude is a weak, inconsequential queen who shows very limited emotion throughout, while Ophelia (Rosalind Ford) is maddeningly bland. The latter’s “madness” is delivered by making her feel like she’s been dragged backwards through a hedge as she sings off key and scratches her head.

His brother Laertes (Daniel Burque) begins as a rather insecure and humble young man. He returns from France as a rebel in a leather jacket with a cause that causes Noel White’s Claudius to cower in fear and kneel before him. The new monarch is seen through the icy prism of politics, but – along with his wife – is not explored as a man, remaining withdrawn. He speaks to the press from the pulpit, unraveling the Danish flag and attempting to inspire the nation after the sudden demise of their beloved king, but lacks both charisma and presence.

Played by Stefan Bednarczyk, his adviser Polonius is vicar. It’s relentlessly funny in its delivery and establishes the only relatively healthy family relationship in the room. Ophélie confides in him, and we believe it (but why is he still on his phone? Who is he texting to?). Alongside his brilliant interpretation, we find Pepter Lunkuseis the gentle, delicate Horatio, whose gleam in her eyes briefly makes us think she might be holding back something more than friendship. Littler doesn’t cut his final scene and lets Horatio grab the poisoned drink to follow Hamlet into death (before the prince forbids it), so in retrospect all of his looks and advice are a nice introduction.

While the production is host to some questionable choices, it’s not without thoughtful and clever details. It’s even more of a shame that he doesn’t realize his potential, because Littler is scattering crumbs of genius. Hamlet juxtaposes a picture of his father kept in his wallet with a banknote depicting the newly crowned ruler of Denmark in a living allegory; Fortinbras is in the spotlight; even pirates get their mostly forgotten mention in a text to Horatio. But it’s when Hamlet is isolated that the show has the chance to reflect on itself and fully reveal the spectrum of what it could be.

This one’s unfortunate missteps could be attributed to Covid-related issues: the company had to delay the press night for a week, so who’s to say the unrehearsed quality of its stylistic instability isn’t also due to the situation. In any case, Fox directed by Littler alone is worth the trip to Surrey.

Hamlet runs at Holy Trinity Church in Guildford until February 23.

Photo credit: Matt Pereira